New baby, one income: how to jump-start a side business

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New baby, one income: how to jump-start a side business

My HR rep handed me a big 'ol packet of papers, gave me a smile and said, "Contact me if you have any further questions."

I was seven-and-a-half months pregnant and the packet of papers was for maternity leave. Crap. I had a TON of questions I needed answers to! Maternity paperwork is some confusing stuff. And when you have an HR gal who is less than helpful? Well, then it's even more confusing.

And then things happen like forgetting to fill out Box17A, which I later learned was the difference between receiving my paid maternity leave and paying the state of CA every last penny of said money.

I apparently skipped over Box 17A, and as far as the State of California was concerned, it looked like we were trying to receive more than our fair share of paid maternity leave. So guess who missed out on maternity leave money but had to pay back the state anyway? This girl. $2500 worth of paid leave gone, just like that. We were barely making ends meet as it was, and now we had to pay it all back when we never got it in the first place?

Before I got pregnant, my husband and I agreed I'd stay home until the baby was school age and then I'd get a job. But going back to work full time with a brand new babe was not going to happen. How would we pay for childcare?!

I was having lunch with a girlfriend one day when she suggested I start a side business using my own photography skills. Photography wasn't foreign to me. I'd taken years of classes, but it had been a while since I last clicked the shutter. So at every play date I attended with my little guy, I'd bring my camera. I'd snap photos of the babies nursing, photos of mama adoring and playing with her babe, photos, photos, and more photos. Then I'd edit and print out those photos as gifts to my friends.

The doula who led my prenatal fitness class let me advertise in her newest classes, free of charge, for Maternity/Mama and Me packages. So I did. And you know what? I got my first few paid jobs--cha-ching! I started out shooting on the weekends when my husband could watch our little guy.

Looking back on it, if I could do it all over again I would do it differently. I really didn't know what I was doing and a handful of my clients let me know that in no uncertain terms, demanding back their money because they didn't like how they looked, or because they felt they deserved more than what they got.

When working with customers, you're bound to make someone unhappy no matter what you do. But I knew if I wanted to make enough money to pay back the missing maternity leave money, I needed to develop more skillz, yo! So I got myself a copy of Photoshop, and I spent hours learning how to edit and hone my brand from the industry's biggest and best, via free classes on CreativeLive.

Slowly but surely I saw my work improve, and people started paying attention. I also joined a few different photography groups and followed my favorite professional photogs on Facebook. From there, I decided to create a business page via Facebook, because it was free and a great way to get my work out to a broader public. Soon my photography business was booming through word of mouth.

My husband and I started to better manage our budget via Mint so we could see where our money was going. It made life so much easier and less stressful. We were able to start saving and paying off that ridiculous amount of money.

Now, I don't think it's common practice for someone to jump in blindly when starting a business--especially not out of desperation like I did. Had I not panicked and instead taken my time, I would have sat down with my husband and talked about how we were going to live within one income. I would have sought out a Business 101 class at the local junior college. I would have visited LawTog for professional advice, or hired a lawyer to show me all the things a good contract should include. I would have made sure my editing skills were top notch instead of good-but-not-great before taking photos of families. But this financial situation was such a shock to us that I didn't think first, so I learned the hard way.

I would hate for you to have to go through the same experience! Make sure those T's are crossed and I's are dotted because it's so easy to miss the fine print, or "Box 17A" as life would have it. There are so many resources out there to help those just starting out, and I'd strongly suggest taking the time to seek them out.

Here are a few of my favorites. Good luck!

CreativeLive is an online learning resource that has expert online photography classes from world-renowned instructors covers areas such as photo/video, art/design, music/audio, and craft/maker offers free videos and interactive advice

The LawTog is a legal website for photographers that teaches the ABCs of starting a photography business, including contracts, copyright & IP, and marketing offers online webcourses

is free to use (although you have to pay for contract templates, business guides, etc.)

Photoshop CS5: The Missing Manual is a book that's great for learning how to edit. From the description online: "It covers Photoshop from a practical standpoint, with tips, tricks, and practical advice you can use every day to edit photos and create beautiful documents."

Going Pro: How to Make the Leap From Aspiring To Professional Photographer is another book with great advice, this time on how to build a business around your photography skills.

What have your experiences been with starting and running a side business? Do you have more tips to share--or beginners' mistakes that you want others to avoid? Share them with the rest of us in the comment section!

Photo: Dan Foy